Dieting has been, is and will be a big hype topic. That’s a fact! Even though things are pretty straight forward when it comes to losing or gaining weight and we have a lot of scientific studies backing us up, there are still a lot of people struggling with ineffective diets, regardless of the goals – lose fat or build muscle.
There’s nothing more frustrating than not making progress towards your goals when it seems like you are doing everything right and putting in all the effort. You eat all the right stuff, you are doing your cardio and exercising, yet the results you see in the mirror are not the one you expect.
Even though dieting is pretty straight forward it is very easy to do it wrong if you are not strict and careful. Here are some of the most common mistakes that will ruin your diet and throw you off track.
Count calories badly
This is probably one of the most frequent mistakes and if you get this wrong there is no way you will be making progress towards the right direction. As you might know already weight loss is pure physics – thermodynamics to be more specific.
It’s all down to calories in versus calories out. You need to be in a caloric deficit or in a negative caloric balance in order to lose weight. As you can imagine, if you are not super accurate with tracking your calories you will mess things up.
The average guy cuts with 300 – 500 kcal a day. If you forget to count the calories from a sandwich you can as a snack or you underestimate a meal at the restaurant there is a pretty good chance you could offset the few hundred kcal deficit.
Calorie counting needs to be on spot. Use apps, online tools and databases such as My Fitness Pal or use your own excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything. It’s a boring activity, but once you get used to it and becomes a habit it’s not that bad. Either way, there is no way around it. You need to be counting calories if you want to lose weight.
Over-estimating burned calories
You might have noticed I used the term ‘energy balance’ before, which is the delta between energy in minus energy out (burned calories). Therefore, the calories you burn will influence the energy balance.
The issue is that many people over-estimate the calories they burned in the gym or throughout the day. The industry standard will tell you that the average sedentary person burns 2,000 kcal a day. That’s an overestimation most of the times which is nothing but a marketing used in the food industry just to encourage people to buy and eat more food.
I work-out 5 times a week and I burn 2,400-2,500 kcal a day. Clients I have been working with hardly lose any weight at 2,000 – 2,100 kcal a day, minimum 3 work-outs per week included.
It’s super hard to estimate how many kcal you burn during a weight training session because it will depend on a lot of factors such as training volume, training intensity, experience, age, bodyweight, muscle mass, fat mass and so on.
However, one of the best and most accurate estimation is the one over here, which is a TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator that is based on the basal metabolic rate (BMR) and uses a BMR multiplier based on how active you are. Go ahead and give it a try and use it as estimation.
Another way of messing things up is by not putting all the energy and effort in your workouts, which will definitely result in less burned calories and will diminish the caloric deficit.
Don’t get me wrong, everybody has good workouts and not so good workouts, but cheating on your workouts or having crappy workouts for weeks will eventually lower your total daily energy expenditure and the caloric intake should be adjusted accordingly, otherwise your diet won’t support your goals anymore.
Too many cheat meals
This is something I have a personal issue with. In fact I high jacked the last few weeks of my cutting phase with a ton of cheat meals and binge eating. I am guilty as charged.
This is happening mostly at mental level, you need to keep your mind straight and stay dedicated to your goals. However, long cutting periods (over 3 months) have bad effects on human body both at physical level and mentally. Your body does not like to get super lean. It needs it fat storages for emergency situations.
It has to do with hormones – leptin to be more specific. It has been scientifically proven that during long caloric restriction periods the leptin level drops which will make you feel moody, will make your libido drop, and you will be more likely to binge eating.
That’s why refeed days or cheat meals have their purpose and are beneficial during a caloric deficit. However cheat meals are a two-edged sword. Use them wisely.
Depending on how advanced you is in your diet you can incorporate cheat meals with different frequencies. Read more about it in the article.
This is a vast topic that I should cover in dedicated article shortly, but since it can influence body weight so much let’s briefly mention it here as well.
Water retention is caused by various factors. The biggest one is sodium intake. If you’re measuring your weight on daily basis you might have noticed that you can gain up to 3-4 pounds from one day to another just by eating very salty foods the night before. The good news is that water weight can be eliminated by the body in a couple of days. All you need to do is drink plenty of water in order to flush out all the salt from your system and don’t eat very salty foods anymore.
Keep in mind that water weight is not fat. If you are losing 2-4 pounds in a couple of days that’s not fat, that’s just water weight. Overweight people hold more water weight than normal weight people, that’s why it’s common for fat people to see a more aggressive weight loss in the first week or so.
Going into starvation mode
Another stupid thing that many people do, myself included when I first started dieting and training, is to eat ridiculously low amounts of food. This puts a lot of stress on the body, particularly on the metabolism, damaging it.
A damaged metabolism usually means a severely slowed down metabolism. It’s the way our body reacts to food restriction in its attempt to reduce energy consumption and try to survive on low foods.
As per most recent studies, and the anecdotal evidence from many fitness professionals that I look up to, the caloric restriction during the cutting phase should be limited to 25% below maintenance level. Anything more than that will excessively slow down metabolism and will interfere with weight training and muscle mass preservation. Yes, you will lose muscle mass if you eat too little food and too little protein.
As I wrote in a previous article, losing weight fast has is more beneficial over losing weigh slow, but within reasonable limits. The cutoff point for weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week, which for most people means a 20-25% caloric deficit.
Not making dieting a lifestyle
Lastly but not least, dieting (regardless if you are trying to lose weight, maintain you current weight or build muscle) should be incorporated in your lifestyle. You should make your diet a part of your life, something sustainable that you can stick with in the long run.
Dieting should not be looked at such as something you do for 8 weeks that you go back to your before eating habits. You don’t need to be super strict with what you eat as long as you keep an eye on the calories and you hit the weights hard.
Personally I like to follow the 80/20 rule. If I eat healthy 80% of the time I can allow myself to eat whatever I like for the rest of 20%.
I’m sure this article is not exhaustive and that there are other very creative ways of high jacking your dieting and put back on all the weight you struggled to lose, but here are the take away points:
- Stay on top of your calories, track everything correctly
- Don’t over-estimate that calories you burn throughout the day. Just because you work out it doesn’t mean you body needs very high amounts of food (anything in the 2,000 – 2,500 kcal a day should be enough for most people)
- Avoid abusing cheat meals, refeed days or binging. Be disciplined and stick to the plan
- Don’t eat a lot of salty foods and don’t confuse water weight loss with fat loss
- Don’t starve yourself
- Make eating right a part of your lifestyle, without being too strict though. The best diet is the one you can stick to long term.